Two years after the death of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD officers, “I can’t breathe” remains perhaps the most disturbing phrase in modern American history. Which makes it all the more courageous that Ellisha and Steven Flagg, Garner’s siblings, refuse to let the tragic day they lost their brother fade into history. This month, they released “I Can’t Breathe,” their second song commemorating Garner, joining countless other musicians who have pledged their support to the Black Lives Matter cause.
The movement has politicized popular artists and helped to shake the commercial cobwebs from hip-hop and R&B. During the past four years, high-profile musicians have issued everything from anthemic rallying cries (Beyoncé’s fearless “Freedom”) to open-ended conversation-starters (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “White Privilege II”). Artists such as D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar emerged with readymade, multifaceted statement albums; smaller artists like Houston MC Z-Ro and icons like Prince released songs in response to various instances of police brutality; and even typically apolitical megastars like Ariana Grande and Usher have joined the outspoken chorus.
A new generation of artists are addressing racism, violence and disillusionment in a way that hasn’t been heard in decades. Read on for our list of some of the most powerful new protest anthems to come out of the Black Lives Matter era.